Thursday, January 05, 2012

Why was Jesus baptized?

Since baptism is traditionally understood as a washing for the forgiveness of sins, and a sacrament that extends salvation, it should be a bit of a puzzle whenever we consider that Jesus himself was baptized by John in the Jordan River.

Here's the Common English Bible translation of the gospel lesson for this coming Sunday, which in the liturgical year is the day on which we celebrate "The Baptism of Our Lord" or "The Baptism of Jesus."

"John was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. Everyone in Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River and were being baptized by John as they confessed their sins. John wore clothes made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. He announced, 'One stronger that I am is coming after me. I'm not even worthy to bend over and loosen the strap of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'

About that time, Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. While he was coming up out of the water, Jesus saw heaven splitting open and the Spirit, like a dove, coming down on him. And there was a voice from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.'"

In a gospel that begins with Jesus' public ministry rather than his birth, and that in all likelihood is the first gospel written, the first attempt by anyone to tell in written form "the beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God's Son," that this is the first story told indicates its hyper-abundance of meaning and import. Here I just hint at a few key points:

1) By being baptized by John, Jesus witnesses to the continuity between John's ministry (and the entire prophetic tradition that preceded him) and his own ministry.

2) By being baptized by John, Jesus points forward to his future ministry that continues but also transcends (without exactly replacing) the ministry of John.

3) His baptism fulfills what the prophets wrote about in Isaiah 40:3, Malachi 3:1, and Exodus 23:20. For Mark, this is the starting place.

4) Jesus' baptism sends him on a mission, first into the midst of wild animals where Satan tempts him and the angels minister to him, then straightaway into the calling of his disciples and the long journey of exorcisms, healings, teachings, and so much more that constitutes his life's work until he is crucified.

5) By being baptized for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus becomes sin, completely. Jesus repents. Given who Jesus is, the Son of God, this means God takes sin into Godself, and the nature of God (if we can say it this way), is itself repentance. This point, in the midst of all these points, should give us extreme pause for thought, humility, and repentance ourselves.

6) It's a Jesus-then, Jesus-now thing, from a literary perspective. So just as Jesus was baptized then, so too each of our individual baptisms participates now in his baptism. If this book was used in a liturgical setting (which is very likely) then it is like a remembrance of baptism litany at the beginning of worship, reminding the worshipping community of their own baptism by narrating the baptism of Jesus.

7) The baptism is like an initiation rite, initiating him into the priesthood (of Melchizedek, see Hebrews) and into the mission of his Father.

8) Jesus stands in for, in a sense is, all of humanity. His life as all of humanity begins here, in baptism.

9) Notice what the Spirit is up to in this text. Lots. It's Pentecost in the life of Jesus, which will be repeated later in the life of the church.

10) Notice what the Father says concerning his Son. It is not just initiation, it is also confirmation, affirmation, of who Jesus is as the Son of God, and what regard the Father has for who this Jesus is and what he will do and be.

And there's so much more, that doesn't even start to cover it. But that will need to wait for the sermon on Sunday.

1 comment:


    The proponents of "FAITH ONLY" salvation like to present the paralytic as an example of one who had his sins forgiven without being baptized in water. Their position is, since Jesus forgave the paralytic without being immersed in water; so then, baptism is not essential, for those living today, in order to have sins forgiven.

    PARALYTIC SALVATION: Luke 5:18-20 And some men were carrying on a bed a man who was paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and set him him down in front of Him. 19 But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus . 20 Seeing their faith , He said , "Friend, your sins are forgiven."

    PARALYTIC SALVATION: Jesus forgave his sin because of the faith of friends.

    Can men today be saved like the paralytic? No, they cannot!

    The paralytic was saved without FAITH.
    The paralytic was saved without REPENTANCE.
    The paralytic was saved without CONFESSING Jesus as the Son of God.
    The paralytic was saved without being BAPTIZED.
    The paralytic was saved without BELIEVING that God raised Jesus from the dead.
    The paralytic was saved without CONFESSING Jesus as Lord and Christ.


    The paralytic was saved before the New Covenant was in force. Jesus had to die before the New Covenant was available.

    Men today have to meet the terms of the New Agreement, that is the New Covenant.

    NEW COVENANT: Hebrews 9:15-17 For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance. 16 For were a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who lives made it.

    The apostle Peter told all men how to be saved under the New Covenant. (Acts 2:22-41) A.D. 33 The Day of Pentecost.

    New Covenant terms of pardon.
    FAITH: John 3:16
    REPENTANCE: Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19, Luke 24:47
    CONFESSION: Romans 10:9-10, Acts 8:37
    BAPTISM: Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 22:16, Colossians 2:12-13, Titus 3:5, John 3:5, Galatians 3:27, Romans 6:3-7

    Was the paralytic saved? Yes, so was the thief on the cross, Enoch, Abraham, and many others before the New Covenant was in force, however, it was the blood of Jesus that washed away the sins of those who died under the Old Covenant.


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